When a book is adapted to the big screen, the results are usually hit-or-miss. Either the movie accurately depicts the story from the book and is loved all (think “Harry Potter”), or the story is changed in numerous unnecessary and unappealing ways, and those who enjoyed reading the book are disgusted by its on-screen portrayal (think “Percy Jackson”). “Ready Player One,” directed by Steven Spielberg, is one of the exceptions to this rule and does not fit into either of these categories, instead securing a middle ground between the two extrema.
When Spielberg announced he would direct the film, he made it clear he would change the story in order to cut out the numerous references to his work made in the book and keep those who read the book on the edge of their seat. By making this announcement before the release of the movie, Spielberg essentially quelled the expectation of a movie that follows the book word-for-word, giving himself more room to work. What he did with this extra room was, for the most part, a success.
The movie, set in the year 2045, depicts a dystopian version of the United States in which people escape from the dreadful state of the world by spending their time in a virtual-reality video game called the OASIS. In the OASIS, people can escape the atrocities of the real world and be free of their worldly burdens. As the protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) put it, “People come to the OASIS for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.”
Watts is what is called a Gunter, a group of people who are pursuing the CEO and founder of the company’s (James Halliday (Mark Rylance)) fortune. The fortune is stored in an Easter egg hidden behind a series of challenges based on Halliday’s life and interests. Along with is fortune, which is valued at approximately $500 billion, the person who finds the egg is awarded control over the entirety of the OASIS’s universe.
Despite changing the majority of the storyline, the movie turned out remarkably similar to the book: a very fun story that was not put together well. The story line was intriguing with a surplus of puzzles, action and references to other forms of media that made for a pleasant viewing experience. But the execution of this storyline was poor, with acting that at times lacked pizzazz and sequences of events that felt unfinished and unpolished. In addition, a lack of character development left the majority of the characters feeling undeveloped and two-dimensional.
One element of the novel that made it hard to put down was the constant throwbacks to the ‘80s. In his adaptation, Spielberg mellowed out the references, removing ones to Dungeons and Dragons, obscure video games, movies and TV shows. Instead, he shifted the focus towards more well-known pieces of the ‘80s (such as “The Shining”), and even going so far as to add things from the ‘90s (such as the “Iron Giant”) and even a couple movie references from the 2000s (such as “Halo” and “Minecraft”). These references were confusing, because these things were not byproducts of the culture of the 80s, and their presence simply did not make sense.
Spielberg’s method of giving himself more room to work with, rather than simply having to make a movie out of an existing story, was a success. However, the resulting product was nothing more than a mediocre (albeit entertaining) film.